Cajun Catfish Boudin
I have many pleasant memories of fishing for catfish that involve sitting by placid water, soaking bait, drinking beer, and killing time waiting for the inevitable strike. But I have one memory that stands out in particular- we were trailering our boat after a hot day pursuing snakehead, and ran into a man fishing off the dock. As we were unloading our gear, we exchanged hellos and asked how he had done. In response, he pulled up a whole stringer of catfish, some dead, some still alive. There were probably two dozen fish, ranging from 3 pounds to 10, flopping around on the end of that rope, and it took him lot of effort to hoist them all from the water for us to check out. He said he was probably about done fishing for the day, and offered to let us take some of those fish home with us. We declined his generosity- we had caught a whole cooler full of snakehead and didn’t have the time or inclination to clean all those fish at once- and headed towards the truck. Just as we were about to pull away, we looked back at the dock and watched with incredulity as that man took each catfish, whether dead or somewhat alive, and chucked every last one back into the water.
I’m still baffled by the sight. I’ve seen catch and release, and that sure wasn’t it. Maybe he just hates blue catfish that much? Hates them in the river, hates eating them? But then why bother with the stringer? I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around that kind of wanton waste.
The thing is, catfish can be a polarizing fish. It’s abundant and easy to catch- most of us probably count a catfish of some type as one of our first fish. And it’s tasty- despite what some people will tell you about it being muddy. To top it off, blue cats are invasive in the watersheds of the Chesapeake Bay and in other waterways. No, not every catfish is invasive, and certainly not everywhere, but it’s been estimated that blue catfish make up 75% of the fish biomass by weight in the lower Rappahannock and James Rivers. That poses a problem- they have few natural predators, can live for up to 20 years, and they are opportunistic in their feeding. Our local fish stocks are at risk for many reasons, but by increasing demand for blue catfish, and thus reducing their population, we can at least make a small difference.
So how do you increase demand? You dress it up.
Boudin, classically, is a French sausage. Boudin noir is a blood sausage, whereas boudin blanc is a pork sausage. The Cajuns, in their ingenuity, have adapted boudin and turned it into something entirely their own. Rice, seafood, pork- almost anything goes, depending on the cook. There’s even a Boudin Heritage Trail that snakes its way through Cajun country. In this recipe, we riff on a Cajun seafood boudin to make a catfish dish that’s a little unexpected and a lot delicious. Serve it with fried okra and hot sauce at your next picnic.
This is essentially catfish etouffee stuffed in casing. The dish is delicious even before making it into sausage, and if you don’t have the means to stuff it, just smother the catfish in trinity and spices and serve over rice. If you do case up these catfish boudins, give them a little char and crisp up the casings on the grill or in a hot oven before serving. We’ll be exploring this process more- lobster boudin noir with squid ink “blood” sounds amazing.
Prep time: 1 hour
1 lb catfish fillets, trimmed and cut into ½” chunks
1 stalk celery, diced fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ onion, diced fine
1 bell pepper, seeded, diced fine
1 jalapeno, seeded, diced fine
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cayenne
1 tsp dried oregano
3 cups cooked Carolina Gold or other white rice, room temp or warmer
Hog casings, rinsed and soaked
Heat a large saute pan to medium heat. Add oil and sweat onions and garlic until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add in celery, cook for 2 minutes, then add peppers and spices. Continue cooking until peppers start to get tender, about 3 minutes. Season catfish with salt and pepper, add to pan, stir to ensure even cooking, and remove from heat when catfish is cooked through, about 4-6 minutes.
Pour contents of pan into a large bowl with rice, mix well, and adjust salt, pepper, and spice as needed. While the mixture is still warm, load it into the sausage stuffer and pipe into casings. Twist into 4-6” links. Oil well and grill, broil or saute to crisp up casing. Serve with hot mustard or add to your favorite cajun dish.